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  • ellenheed


I define somatic education as a deeply mindful inquiry into subtle details of sensation. Explicit, focused attention on feeling states becomes a doorway into rich emotional landscapes. New insights into past experiences are ignited at the interface between deep, respectful touch and jointly held awareness.

It is my job as a practitioner to stay patient, present, and to let the sensations of the client take the lead. It is not useful to impose some idealized state of being onto what is happening in the body of my client. Perceiving the subtleties of what I’m feeling on my client’s body requires a personal practice for me as the therapist that cultivates humility.

I am aided in my approach to bodywork by a regular mindfulness practice. Mindfulness and humility are mutually reinforcing.

The cultivation of Beginner’s Mind facilitates opening my client’s bodymind to awareness, and the potential for release and change. In sessions, I offer reflections on somatic events by drawing attention to the body’s physical responses. These body cues increase client awareness of the relationship between emotional and autonomic experiences. Whether clients are intensely engaged by becoming aroused or withdrawing from their feelings, my perceptions are used as a mirror, reflecting information about their ability to self-regulate.

As an anatomical tour-guide, I name the function of the body parts I engage. This new information about function, autonomic response, and other sub-cortical cues opens up fresh options for clients. If they are habituated to responding to body-cues by dimming down their potential for sensation, this new information helps people realize their goals for more meaningful, pleasurable connections to their body.

The felt experiences thus explored often include the realization and release of a surprising range of feeling states, including, but certainly not limited to, pleasure, arousal, traumatic memories, and the potential for an autonomic re-set once trauma has cleared from the body. Every new possibility arises from a gentle provocation of the flesh as well as the psyche.

The truism that “the body remembers” has not been born out in my experience. Quite often, the body does not remember a painful or traumatic event from the past, and is, in fact numb until a skilled hand teases up the scars, adhesions and other trauma sequelae that have resulted from past wounding. It is then my goal as a somatic educator to accurately describe what I feel to the client and ask the client about what sensations they are feeling. Sharing a common descriptive language allows both of us to acknowledge the changes that careful, gentle manipulation of these tissues may accomplish.

Indeed, it may be a fool’s errand to seek to relieve the psyche of emotional trauma, a sort of psychic scar tissue, without investigating the specific tissues in the body where an injury once occurred. It is equally unproductive to focus only on the tissue itself.

But when the practitioner allows space for emotions to freely arise and to integrate while holding the client in a kind and open awareness without judgment, the tone of their tissue changes much more quickly than with physical manipulation alone. Practitioners must work diligently with their own awareness, via both spiritual and mindfulness practices, to cultivate acutely focused attention to what is changing in the tissues of each client as emotional release unfolds.

Attention trained on the minute is crucial for noticing change. With the careful application of pressure and friction, tissues gradually change their autonomic receptivity. Careful, focused attention on the pressure, speed and depth of contact is required in order to monitor small changes in breath, skin color, and vascular perfusion. It is critical to notice as these subtle autonomic shifts arise. If such cues are missed, the benefits of the work will not last.

When engaging scars, changes in previously traumatized tissues happen at both palpable and quantum levels with the input of authentic bare attention (from the practitioner). In this case, bare means bare of judgment. Bare attention tracks the quality of minute autonomic changes in the client’s body. Autonomic changes include shifts in skin color, breath rate and depth, perfusion of blood, and especially the changes in tissue resilience.

Such specific, focused attention of the practitioner to both the emotional body and the autonomic body of the client becomes the catalyst for dramatic changes in the resilience of scar itself. It is impossible to differentiate the scar-body from the emotional and autonomic bodies.

By addressing the connection between the emotional and physical bodies, STREAM frees emotions that have become stuck in scar tissue. Explicit memories that have been sublimated are revealed when scars are touched correctly. With the recovery of lost memories, the split, that happened due to traumatic overload of the nervous system, repairs. When the client’s whole body relaxes, their autonomic nervous system re-regulates as immediate and dramatic changes occur in their scar tissue.

The internal narrative of the body is our somatic and autonomic story. That story becomes coherent the moment our scars are given the chance to speak. Down-regulation becomes possible for chronically hyper-vigilant people, or arousal and the ability to remain present with more sensation occur in those who habitually disassociate.

This process allows for a kind of integration that is not accessible using cognitive therapy alone. It is not my goal as a practitioner to lead the client on a “trauma hunt”. I remain attentive to the changes in the tissue and report those changes while inviting a dialog about the quality of the client’s embodied experience.

Naming our bodies means claiming our bodies. Aspiring somatic educators must learn more about how to educate their clients about their fleshy terrain. Naming the parts that they are touching as they are touching them is the goal of a “naming and claiming” session prior to any deeper work. This process can provide a common descriptive language that facilitates a return to resilience of both the scar-body and the emotional body.

The client is not passive during this process. The client is encouraged to engage, by reporting memories, associations, and sensations in a dialog with the practitioner while the mapping process is underway. Many clients have described their mapping processes to be life changing.

STREAM students report deep relaxation & transcendent awe, as they re-experience their genitals with practice partners who are mindful, respectful and attend to the student or client’s experience without judgment. The physical, psychological, and spiritual coalesce in this state of awe, as the genital map unfolds during this process of mutual somatic education.


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